A new major UK study has revealed various factors that can increase life expectancy, including maintaining a healthy weight and long-term education.
Carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the team analysed genetic information from more than 600,000 people alongside records of their parents’ lifespan, and included data from 25 separate population studies from Europe, Australia and North America
It is already known that some lifestyle choices are partly influenced by our DNA, for example increased alcohol consumption and addiction
Taking this into account, and as we share half of our genetic information with each of our parents, the team was able to use the data to calculate the impact of various genes on life expectancy.
The method was designed to establish exactly which lifestyle factors could cause people to live longer, or shorter, lives, with Professor Jim Wilson, of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, explaining that, “The power of big data and genetics allow us to compare the effect of different behaviours and diseases in terms of months and years of life lost or gained, and to distinguish between mere association and causal effect.”
The results showed that maintaining a healthy weight was an important factor influencing life expectancy, with those who were overweight reducing their life expectancy by two months for every extra kilogram of weight carried.
Education was linked to a longer life, with each year spent studying after school adding almost a year of extra life, as was being open to new experiences.
The team also discovered new DNA differences that affect lifespan, finding that a gene linked to the immune system adds around half a year to life expectancy, whereas a gene that affects blood cholesterol levels was found to reduce lifespan by around eight months.
Body fat and other factors linked to diabetes were also found to have a negative influence on life expectancy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly smoking was found to have the greatest impact on reducing lifespan, with smoking a packet of cigarettes per day over a lifetime taking an average of seven years off life expectancy. However, the team also found that smokers who give up can eventually expect to live as long as somebody who has never smoked.
The findings can be found published online in the journal Nature Communications.